Profile: Myrt Rose's astonishing versatility

Sue Keller
  • Myrt still has the first plane she ever owned as well as the last one she owned%2C sitting at the airstrip next to her house.

Many remember the weekly television show "What's My Line" from the 1950s and 1960s. On the popular show, a celebrity guest panel asks contestants questions about their lives and then tries to determine their occupation.

Longtime Marco resident Myrt Rose would surely stump the panel.

Who would ever guess that the elegant, sophisticated, educated, glamorous board member of Endicott Girls College in Beverly, Mass., and former art teacher has a nose for excitement and adventure that goes beyond your average thrill seeker.

Rose jumped out of airplanes for a living, was a well-known wing walker, spent a year in the jungle of Peru living among the natives, then took up diving for treasure.

Myrt Rose still spends a lot of time on Marco Island.

If that comes as a surprise, just picture Rose, a 75-year-old accomplished pilot at her northern home in Barrington, Ill., after a hectic day, deciding to take her 1941 Piper J-3 Cub she refers to as "Winston" up for a late afternoon leisurely flight when a couple of F-16s pulled up close enough for her to see them.

Rose, who usually checks for any flight restrictions before she takes off, found her computer was not working that day. She had not flown for a few days and was anxious to get up in the air. She had no idea she had strayed into restricted airspace when President Obama was visiting the Chicago area. The jets scrambled from Toledo North American Aerospace Defense Command, but could not make contact, as she had no radio in her plane.

Just as she approached the airstrip getting ready to land, the two jets flew by her Cub at about 300 mph. It was after she landed on the grass strip at her house that all the commotion started as state police came onto the property and her phones started ringing.

"I didn't know I was doing anything wrong," said Rose. "I thought the F-16s were slowing down to admire my antique plane."

For the next six months, just about every news publication wanted to interview Rose. She later found out that one of the F-16 pilots was the commander of the Toledo airbase and lives on a farm and commutes to work everyday in a J-3 Cub. He knew not to get close to Rose in the air because if he did, the wake of his plane would knock her plane out of control.


Rose was born in Orange, Mass., one of the largest parachute centers in the country.

"That was where parachuting was really born in the United States," said Rose.

In 1960, Rose started parachuting out of airplanes, which later led to her desire to learn to fly.

"Flying and parachuting was how I met my first husband," said Rose.

Myrt and Ted Strong were married in 1964 and purchased their first parachute company in Quincy, Mass. They later owned the Enterprise Parachute Company in Orlando.

Ted and Myrt had a parachute booth at numerous air shows around the country, including the Oshkosh Air show in 1976. They sold emergency parachutes to people participating in the air show when it became mandatory to wear one while performing air maneuvers.

Attending air shows around the country opened the door for Myrt to meet interesting people. Pilot Walt Pierce and his wing-walker wife became good friends of Myrt and Ted and traveled the same air-show circuit. When the couple performed in East Coast shows, they stayed with Myrt and her husband, who lived outside of Boston at the time.

"So we became very good friends," said Rose. When her friend's wife had some issues and did not want to continue wing walking, Myrt, who was familiar with the whole procedure, got a call from Walt to see if she wanted to take his wife's place on the wing.

Myrt's first wing-walking show in 1976 was at the world-famous Oshkosh Air Show at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.

Pierce got weathered in and arrived at the last minute. The two had never practiced together and Myrt had never stepped onto the wing of a flying plane before. The show was a success. Myrt performed with Pierce at air shows around the country for the next four years.

Bill Rose

Myrt met Bill Rose at the Oshkosh Air Show in 1985. The two of them attended the shows together for the next 25 years.

Bill and Myrt Rose were together for 26 years and married for 18.

Myrt had a knack of surprising Bill on his birthday with unexpected presents. One surprise on Bill's 70th birthday included Walt Pierce flying low over the boat full of birthday guests with Myrt standing on the wing as Walt did loops, dives and figure-eights near the Jolley Bridge.

For Bill's 75's birthday, Myrt hired a circus and came riding in on an elephant. On Bill's 80th birthday, she rented Ngala, the private animal reserve in Golden Gate where more than 200 guests met wild animals, strolled around feeding carrots to a giraffe and saw Bill and Myrt riding a camel.

Guests enjoyed a five-star meal, and were entertained by a full Las Vegas show in a huge tent. The show included Myrt in net stockings, wearing Bill's old Army uniform jacket, singing on stage. She was a big hit, according to her husband.

Back in Barrington

Myrt still proudly holds a license to fly a helicopter, single-engine and multi-engine planes, and also has a rating for a single- and twin-engine seaplane.

Beloved husband Bill died in 2010. Myrt still winters at her home on Marco, the one she had shared with Bill.

She has become more active in the community and attends many local functions. Myrt said it's always hard to leave Marco when she goes back North for the summer.

"Everything is so different up north, but very pretty," says Rose.

Myrt still has the first plane she ever owned as well as the last one she owned, sitting at the airstrip next to her house.

Bill Rose passed away April 9, 2010, leaving his footprints in the sand of Marco Island with Rose Hall and Rose History Auditorium.

Although Myrt and Ted Strong's marriage lasted only a few years, they remained close friends. Strong attended Myrt and Bill's wedding and was a guest at several special occasions with them through the years.

In October 2011, skydiving legend Ted Strong was killed in a parachuting accident while testing a system for the military. Two weeks prior to his death, he and Myrt attended an annual parachute reunion. The two of them had the opportunity to reminisce about the good old days.

Myrt Rose still has plenty of energy and zest for adventure and is supportive of many local charities. Her friends wonder what she might be up to next.